How some tourists ruin photography for everyone

How some tourists ruin photography for everyone

Manuel Becker Manuel Becker in Tips & Tricks
4 min read
Photo by Manuel Becker

Social Media is probably one of the reasons, why most of the people are trying to capture photos, that are as unique as possible. While this may work for the social profile, it’s often anything else than social.

I am not sure, if this was always the case, but platforms like Instagram seem to motivate people to get as creative as possible about their photos, so that their images would stand out from the crowd. While I totally understand this behavior and like it from the perspective as a creative person, I see the other side of the coin more and more often and it feels like it’s getting worse and worse every year during my travels around the globe.

How some tourists ruin photography for everyone

Enjoying this beautiful waterfall called Marymere Falls near Seattle isn't always that easy. The fence doesn't prevent people from getting down there and in this case there were around 50 people (some of them were even yelling at them), that had to wait for quite some time until they finished their private photo shooting. What a nice way of this mother to teach her son how to make friends and how to respect other people...

Tourism is definitely on a peak right now and while some might think that this is the whole issue why so many places are so crowded, I am kind of glad, that so many people can afford to travel and to see the world. Every year more and more people will probably be able to travel and that’s good in general, as long as we understand, that we are a part of these tourists. I believe that a lot of photographers hate too many people at specific places, but well… they are present too and therefore part of the issue.

There are 2 very easy solutions to solve this problem for serious photographers:

  • Get out of your comfort zone: This means, that for example standing up early or getting there outside the main season or during „bad weather conditions“ are great time slots for serious photographers, when you have the chance to enjoy these places nearly alone.
  • Visit non-touristic places: There are so many beautiful spots around the world, that are definitely not crowded and still beautiful. This is especially the case at locations that are not so easy to reach or just not interesting for the standard tourist.

The status quo

While these 2 suggestions are probably easily extensible by even more ways to get a unique photo, most of the people decide to go for the easiest of every possible solution, which is ignoring other people and being extremely egoistic about their photos. Here are two situations I experienced myself quite a few times now:

The space problem

At most of the places, there is usually enough space so that everybody can get his own photo from the scene. Blocking the spot for anybody else that might also take a photo during sunrise might be your right, but what’s so hard about being kind to other people?

Why we need to stop being so egoistic about photography

This is how the spot itself for the famous view towards Hallstatt in Austria looks like. There are usually a lot of people, that want to get the same photo during sunset too. While there is definitely enough space for everyone, a lovely lady always held her phone in front of my lens, because she was anything else than fine with me standing next to her.

Why we need to stop being so egoistic about photography

This is how a possible result looks like from the Classic Hallstatt View Spot. Looks so idyllic, doesn't it? ;-)

F*ck the rules

Another great way of being egoistic is by disregarding closed areas. While these people might think, that it’s their problem when they get caught or if they risk their life for a photo, it’s also often them, who are standing in everybody’s photo. Others, who are respecting the rules, may now have to wait until they finished their photographic round trip through everyone’s image section. Sometimes it’s even worse and others may be motivated to risk their life too, because otherwise they have no chance of getting a photo without these people as a main photo topic. This also happened to the landscape photographer Thomas Heaton at an active volcano in Hawaii, who describes his frustration in the following video.

I am sure, that you all experienced both situations as well and I am also pretty sure, that I was one of these guys at least once for others too, because we all love to get that very special shot. My last visit in Canada opened my mind though, because I experienced quite a lot of these people that ignore everybody for their own good.

The benefits of being respectful

After I experienced extremely ignorant people, that would stand without any regrets in front of around 50 other photographers that are booing at them, I started to pay a lot more attention to situations like this one. I am still openminded for getting these special photos behind the barriers, but this is something you might want to do in the early morning or during bad weather when you are not disturbing anybody else.

While respecting the rules and helping others to get their souvenir photo too, I met so many nice people, that were very thankful for a peaceful co-existence. I talked to quite a lot of them and especially locals often had a special advice about a hidden photo spot. Instead of trying to get the most of Social Media, I was suddenly more social and making friends and this just because of being friendly and respectful to other people.

Please don’t get me wrong here. In my opinion it’s definitely not about being a holy person, but paying more attention to others and respecting them would make these iconic places better for all of us. Making friends locally nearly always results in better travel experiences and sometimes even in more real followers on Instagram (if that's what's important for your), just because you’ve been social by the real meaning of this word… ;-)

What about your stories? Did anything like that happen to you too? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Comments (39)

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Gordon Garrett
Gordon Garrett 02.08.2020
On a similar vein, I was at Salisbury Cathedral trying to get a shot of the Font and the reflection in it of the Nave. Probably about 50/50 font and Nave. Just as I set my tripod up a group of tourists arrived and stood down shot of the font. One even sat down on a seat in front of the font to check 'phone messages for ten minutes. When I asked him politely if he wouldn't mind moving for a few moments, he asked why. I'm afraid I said "because I don't want you in my photograph". Very begrudgingly after my wife spoke to him, he did move. Shortly after I was trying to get one more shot with the reflection when a parent with two young children walked up to the font and allowed them to swish their hands in the water, thereby spoiling the mirror effect on the water for about 15 minutes. Just after that a group of tourists came in brandishing their Nikons and so I gave up and went home very disappointed and annoyed.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 03.08.2020
Oh I totally feel with you dear Gordon. It would be so awesome if the people at these places could just enjoy them together with everybody being there so that everybody gets what he/she wants or would like to do. On the other hand I learned that it's a) very important to be at places like that during the right timing and b) to compare it a little bit with fishing... you simply need a lot of patience that I usually use to enjoy the place itself which is something I wasn't that good at in the beginning because I wanted to get to the next spot etc. Getting slowed down by whatever is therefore a great thing and sometimes it helped me to get creative with the current situation, for example doing multiple exposures to simply stamp the people out in post-processing. A beautiful view resulting in you going home disappointed and annoyed is not worth it. I love the quote: "There is a room between a stimulus and your reaction"
Jim Blubaugh
Jim Blubaugh 27.08.2019
The problem I am seeing as of late is the boom in the self proclaimed Instagram models. Most recent example was this past April in Kyoto. I was up a couple of hours before dawn scouting out the placement I wanted to shoot the pagoda in the Higashiyama district. Within about 10 mins 3 or 4 other hardcores showed up for the same view. We all group together interlocking tripods so everyone could get the same viewpoint. After 2 hours of waiting for the perfect light, just as the pagoda was golden, up comes an Instagram Model with her umbrella to snap her shots, right in front of everyone. Did this for about 20 minutes until the light was gone, then left. It was unbelievable. Thankfully we were able to get some shots while she reviewed her shots. BTW - We asked nicely if we could take a few minutes but we got the shrug and the look! Lol
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 27.08.2019
Haha, I guess you have some nice photos from her now... ;-) But that's exactly the same with the waterfall in the article. There are some people that are ignoring everybody else. Once I was in New York to shoot the skyline during September 11 when the 2 spots are on and beside me, there were around 100 photographers I would say. And suddenly a mother with his little one came around the corner and started to play in front of 100 photographers that waited for this little moment during blue hour... :-D
Edward 25.08.2019
Ha! You might like Sky Terrace on The Peak in Hong Kong. It starts filling from about an hour before sunset, so you need to be there two hours before sunset – and take a taxi rather than the tram. People were friendly enough when I was there. There will be in excess of 100 photographers up there, triple that number if you include the iPhone community. Plenty of self-sticks come into frame but no need to worry about people getting in front of you – the other side the rail in the front of the viewing area is a sheer drop.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 26.08.2019
Hehe, I guess that's anything else than having fun then... ;-) I really liked the view from 30 Rock the first time I was in New York, but the last time I was nearly crushed by all the people behind me, wanting to take a photo from the sunset and I wasn't able to get away from the first row... so these places are really hard to handle if the limits are too high.
Marcelo Aguilar
Marcelo Aguilar 25.08.2019
This is a sensitive and passionate subject. I think that in this world that promotes so much competition, people have become very selfish. "The important thing is to be the first, to be in the front row" For many, no matter the others because I do not know them. I think many have already written how important communication is. Sometimes we have to fight with the wall of education also without hurting susceptibility. Well, I want to give you my formula that has not always turned out but has given me satisfaction. I think it could have resulted in the film that Tomas Heaton showed us in Hawaii. "Hey, what a good place you have achieved, the best of all. Your photographs must be beautiful. I would like to ask you a favor. I will never be able to visit this place again and I would like to take a photo as beautiful as the one I suppose you have taken. You can leave a moment to take advantage of that place. I thank you very much and if you wish I can send it to you ". It may seem hypocritical but people accept it because there is no offense and there is some recognition (and with a smile of course).
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 26.08.2019
That's such a wonderful phrasing! And yeah, I see the "I need to be better than XY" as well so often, but the world feels so much better when you change the view towards "Tomorrow, I need to become a better person/photographer/partner/... than I've been today." And because of this view, I really appreciate to help others to become better as well, since it helps me to become a better person and teaching others is often the best way to improve yourself. Win-Win I would say... :-)
Stephen 25.08.2019
Don't ever go to Yosemite during the tourist season. This photo was taken during a "slow" time. I can't imagine what it's like during the holidays or summer vacation. And in Machu Picchu there are selfie sticks everywhere. Very frustrating when you're trying to set up a shot.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 26.08.2019
Yeah I guess it very much depends on the timings then, especially Yosemite is something I would love to see someday, because I've been a few times nearby, but never had the time to visit it. Machu Picchu is limited nowadays and you need a special permit to get there. Didn't that improve the situation up there somehow? A good friend of mine is traveling there and doing the long hike up there very soon.
Alona Azaria
Alona Azaria 06.03.2018
This video (and especially the end of it) proves that communication is the key factor in situations like these. Happened to me too. A gorgeous chapel at sunset. A couple decided to go right in front to kiss and hug while the sun was racing down. I was wasting my time in anger until I decided to ask them if this was going to take forever. They seemed totally oblivious to their action but eventually they moved on time, albeit angrily and after having promised that it would take me a few seconds to complete my shot. In retrospect, I should have asked them in a kinder way, maybe even with a smile, if they would allow me to take a quick shot.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 07.03.2018
That's an extremely good learning from this situation, thank you very much for sharing your story. Often it's not easy, but communication is definitely the best choice, especially with a smile and if you learned from it you might have the chance to respond friendlier the next time...? :-) 28.01.2018
That's one of the reasons I enjoy night photography. Even in busy cities (ok, maybe not on the Champs-Elysées or any other highly touristic street) you can have the streets almost for you alone if you show up at 10 pm or even later during the night, just don't choose the weekends. Every time I go out at night I'm surprised again how quiet our busy world is as soon as most people are asleep.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 07.03.2018
That's true... I also enjoyed night photography very much, because I love to wander around during the night, but for photography, I eventually learned that night often results in a "dead" sky, so I started to take photos during this time of the day. But it's great that this works for you!! 12.03.2018
That's why I use HDR or Exposure Fusion. This allows me to take photos with everything nicely exposed, even the nocturnal sky.
Daryl L. Hunter
Daryl L. Hunter 15.11.2017
As a photography guide in Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks I have seen a terrible devolution of experience. Yellowstone has outlawed selfie sticks because they were triggering bison to attack. Survival of the fittest. The crowds have become unbelievable in the recent years, I believe, largely because of Social Media. Followers see interesting photos of interesting places taken by their friends, then they want to go. Yes early and late is usually still a time refuge from the masses; however, at peak color in Grand Teton National Park I have seen tour buses start showing up at 6am for the autumn shot of Oxbow Bend. Like most posters here, my important shots I show up early for or stay late and while I am monopolizing the place I have staked out, I offer to move aside for moment for others to get a good shot also. I also encourage people that is ok to cross tripods and crowd together when the sweet spot is narrow. I also enjoy the others I meet.
Edward 26.08.2019
Thanks Daryl, Any chance you can lend me a few bison to take on my travels? They'd have a field day on the Sky Terrace on The Peak in Hong Kong and there would be plenty of opportunities for the SLR user community to get some great in-close action shots :-)
Petra Sadrina
Petra Sadrina 18.10.2017
Being on vacation right now - which means being a tourist myself - I become annoyed by other tourists. Photography is only a hobby for me, so most of the time I’m pretty relaxed about getting “my” shot. For me it starts even before blocking the view. If it’s about something “nature” I suppose everybody is there to enjoy the view, the special place, the nature. So why are people constantly destroying what they came for? Just yesterday I watched a family at a viewpoint. They arrived, got out of their car, kept the motor running, were pretty loud, were surprised the animals they saw from their car ran away, ignored the “don’t feed wildlife” signs and fed birds and squirrels to get them close, took photos with their cellphone, smoked a cigarette, threw the butt on the ground, got back into their still running car after about 15 minutes and left. What the hell is wrong with people these days? These people don’t ruin my photo, they ruin the whole place.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 18.10.2017
That's so sad to hear something like this... I guess that's definitely the even harder version of these kind of tourists. When I was in the rainforest north of Vancouver, there was an extreme danger of wild fires, which were already all around us in that area, but I still saw some guys smoking and throwing the butts on the very dry ground... there are huge warning signs everywhere and I can't imagine that somebody want's to be "that guy" who destroyed a whole region for some years, but they still don't care... I am not sure either what to do with people like that, so your story definitely reminded me of this situation. We will probably never understand that behavior, Petra... ;-)
Petra Sadrina
Petra Sadrina 19.10.2017
I could kick myself for not going over to that car and just turn the engine off. Or for not saying something about the feeding and the cigarette butts. But as a solo traveling woman and knowing how aggressive some people get these days I’m super cautious. Especially in the middle of nowhere. :-/
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 20.10.2017
Don't worry about that. I also try to alert people about something like that more often, but it's definitely not always possible, especially not if you are solo traveling.
Till Haarmann
Till Haarmann 11.10.2017
Great article! i agree. I think most of us photographers who see photography as part of their life, as a passion have those problems with unpolite People, who only cares for their reputation on social media and how others see them or get envious cause they visit the top spot everyone on social media visits. As you describe, I always travel with respect to other people and photographers at spots and locations. And most of them are respectful too, so you can easily came in contact and share opinions or ideas or the Photo. This helps more than anything else, and in case you meet a selfish person who don´t care about other, I stand back, look at them and remember why i don´t want to be like this cause it´s not my way. that helps too. But also, most spots get very crowded. So i step out of my comfort zone, everytime i have the chance to. Visit places offside the tourist spot, asking other photographers via instagram for tips or get in contact with local people for informations. Airbnb helps in some cases or a cold beer at a nice bar ;) I also start trips in off season, hike a lot (Cause most of selfish people are to lazy) and take photos through the night or early morning. In the End, we have to go our way, respectful and openminded. We can´t change those people, but we can show other people how it works.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 11.10.2017
Great comment too, dear Till! I couldn't agree more and it's very similar to my approach. Important to understand in my opinion is, that we still all can get great photos without the need to disrespect other people. Great attitude, thanks for your opinion!
Sarah Keir
Sarah Keir 10.10.2017
I come across this problem all the time. But also in reverse with professional photographers e.g. Jimmy Nelson in the middle of a mask festival while all the well behaved tourists (including myself) were sat outside the barrier!
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 10.10.2017
That's the other side Sarah, thanks for your feedback about this topic! Maybe he was payed to document the festival or something like that?
Alison Gunn
Alison Gunn 06.10.2017
This is a really big problem in places like Iceland, where if you go almost any time of year now, you will encounter stupid people behaving badly. Icelanders themselves complain bitterly about this problem, because they often try to rescue people in precarious situations where tourists have died. I personally try to go to out-of-the-way places, because some of the places that professional photographers are trying to get have now been totally over-done. The same pictures appear during a Google search, for example. The world is a big and small place; big enough to find other places to photograph, small enough that people get in each other's way if they insist on traveling at the same time as everyone else. Travel in the winter or the off seasons to avoid crowds. It's cheaper, too.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 06.10.2017
I also saw quite a lot of people in Iceland, that destroyed their cars for a selfie or nearly died for it, because they underestimated the extremely strong winds. But that's what happens, when people that come from very safe areas to countries, that are definitely not like their home country. I just hope that Iceland and other countries like that still has the chance to stay like that without the need of building fences everywhere. Traveling during off seasons is one of the best ways for sure. Thanks for your opinion dear Alison!
Frank 03.10.2017
My two cents to the topic ... it always depends. I take photos to let my pals/family know what I have seen. If I have seen a crowded place, why not showing? I don´t like photos which don´t show reality. If I want to show a place with no people, I go there early in the morning. If everyone takes a photo from one spot, I look for an alternative spot. E.g. if everyone is photographing flowers from above, I go on my knees and take the photo from below. And sometimes I admit, e.g. in a situation like your example of Hallstatt I am loosing my motivation and don´t take a photo.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 06.10.2017
Also a good point Frank! Sometimes I like it too, to show the people within the images, especially when they add a dimension to it and that's just how a city or anything like that looks like. Making the best out of every situation is a very good attitude!
Jens Sieckmann
Jens Sieckmann 03.10.2017
Nice words and also true, but you cast pearls before swine I think.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 06.10.2017
Who knows... ;-)
Kevin Staddon
Kevin Staddon 01.10.2017 , edited
I agree with a lot of what has been written. I think social media is defiantly killing photography. I have noticed recently that at certain famous spots Mona lisa, Adam, st Marks for example the new trend is to stand in front of the subject/view with one of those sticks and take selfies then leave, don’t look at the subject or view just. I have watched this phenomenon develop over the years and it all about the self and not the subject. This means that if you are in the way trying to get a decent shot you become unpopular very quickly. Also as has been mentioned there is a lot of bad manners, stepping in front of you etc etc, Combine this with different cultures and it’s easy to see why things can get stressed. But mainly it’s all about the self. Lastly and most importantly people have become desensitised to a good photograph, they are constantly exposed to out of focus, blurred, badly composed and badly exposed images on social media, I think it was over 8 billion images uploaded last year, so no one cares about the fact it may take a fraction longer to get a good image. I personally try and research where I’m going to shoot and prepair myself to have to visit more than once, which with a lot of places is no bad thing. I have also in recent years changed my kit. I have gone for smaller stuff, easier thanks to excellent mirrorless, compact and brilliant point and shoot (RAW capable) systems now available, and I can get all of it into a normal messenger bag. I never use a tripod anymore I imrpovise using a bean bag or the old string and washer trick, which also challenges me and my skills to adapt to the situation. I find that because my kit is much smaller it seen as though people accept it easier and find it less intrusive so they tend to let me get my shot. But to be honest the two biggest you need to pack are politeness and patience. Unfortunately I don’t think things will change now, we live in a smaller world, with more people travelling, especially young people, who are selfie focused. The other way is to only shoot places that are exceptionally difficult to access.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 03.10.2017
Hey Kevin, thanks for such a detailed answer! Funny that you write about Mona Lisa... just read in an article about a couple that were frustrated about the situation you described and they got invited afterwards to Norway by a tourism agency, where they could enjoy art without thousands of people in front of an image. Was a really great marketing idea by the tourism agency in my opinion. I was also thinking if Instagram and Co + this extreme self focus and everybody wants to be a photographer gets less popular in the future, but I guess it will be even more and more. The part I fully agree with you is about enjoying these places. I also had a time when I was taking photos to get the photo, but I was so focused about the image, that I needed to rethink this part and focus more about the moment and enjoying the sunset instead of missing it while taking the photo. Since then I am taking much more time to enjoy the scene or in your case the image of Mona Lisa, although that's really hard to enjoy with these masses of people.
Holger Pleus
Holger Pleus 01.10.2017
I personally go totally with Stafano Mitta. Additionally I am ready to wait for the perfect shot for up to half an hour sometimes. Depends on the Location and the timeI've got to spend there. Sometimes several shots using a tripod can solve the problem by eliminating obstacles in post precessing.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 03.10.2017
I agree to him and you too and I am also very patient about that, but what I often can't understand is how some people can ignore everybody just for their own good. I am usually the complete opposite, so it's often hard to understand... ;-) For my photography it's no problem, because I am retouching everything in post processing and find ways to solve these issues, but I was really sorry for all the other people at some of these places, that didn't get a proper photo and were sad about that. Thanks for your opinion dear Holger! :)
Stefano Mitta
Stefano Mitta 01.10.2017
Personally I try to avoid places full of people, but of course sometimes you have to deal with them... Usually "respect gets respect" or should gets it. Unfortunately with a lot of people this rule doesn't works. Neither talk with them, it's only a wasting of time. In that case sunrise, a 10 stop ND filter, stacking photos or clone stamp could be an easy solution to get the result you were looking for. I know it's annoying to have extra work in post, it would be better to get the best shoot possible right in camera, but sometimes it's simply not possible. ste
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 03.10.2017
Yeah that's true, but often it's not possible to be everywhere during sunrise. But that's usually the time when it's much easier and those who stood up so early respect each other more than somebody who didn't "pay a price" to see a place during sunrise. Thanks for your feedback Stefano, really appreciate it!
Jo Casqueiro
Jo Casqueiro 01.10.2017
I fully understand you: it's quite frustrating when are almost ready for the "perfect" shot and someone stands in front of you with a smartphone just ignoring you. I recently was in Pisa, Italy trying to take some "creative" shots during day hours: no way ! I changed my mind and took some shots of the tourists themselves on their acrobatic positions. I came next day 7 AM and was very glad to see Pisa's tower alone ready for my shots. When I cannot change people's behavior I adapt mine. Street shots are difficult because I cannot change people flow. once I chose my shot I remain ready and wait. Sometimes it does not work, but most of the times I have an excellent moment in the following 2-3 minutes. I don't know if I am a lucky guy because I know how to wait or if I know how to wait to be a lucky guy. Regards.
Manuel Becker Team
Manuel Becker 01.10.2017
Excellent mindset dear Jo! In cases like this one I fully agree, because at Pisa it's definitely everybody's right to be wherever you want. I was talking more about places that are forbidden and some people just don't care about these restrictions that everybody has. I guess you are a lucky guy not because of being lucky, but because of your mindset, so stay as you are!! :) Thanks for your feedback, Manuel
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